It’s that time of year on the North Fork when most farmstands have closed, and those that are open feature Christmas trees and firewood, plus a few frost-touched Brussels sprout stalks and cauliflower heads. However, most of the wineries are still open, at least on the weekends, and there are still plenty of limos wandering the streets. When we saw five of them in the parking lot of Lenz we almost turned around, knowing their tasting room was on the small side, but I’m very glad we did not. The vibe inside was mellow rather than frenetic, and by the time we finished our leisurely and very enjoyable tasting we had the room to ourselves.
For some reason Lenz funnels arriving parties through a small wooden archway, but you can get to the vine-covered tasting room directly from the end of the parking lot as well. The room itself is rustic, with wooden beams like a barn, and tables around the perimeter offer a variety of wine-related gifts.
They offer two tastings, the Estate Flight is of their wines which are produced every year, and is $10 for five generous tastes, and the Premium Flight is $14 for five of their wines produced “only in years our winemaker feels they are good enough.” We opt to share one of each, and our knowledgeable and enthusiastic server helps us alternate, suggesting which to taste first of each pair. She not only knows lots about each wine, she is clearly a fan of the vineyard, and talks about her visits to it before she actually became an employee. They will soon be releasing a Malbec—not, alas, in labeled bottles yet—and her positive review of it causes us to decide we will be sure to pick up a bottle once it is released.
Lenz is one of the older vineyards on the North Fork, and many of its better wines are labeled Old Vines. In general, their winemaker, Eric Fry, goes for a French style of winemaking, and the results are overall excellent. We only had one wine we didn’t care for. I’ve marked the Premium wines with an *.
1) 2008 Gewürztraminer $20
A few years ago we went to several wineries looking for the best Gewürztraminer for our Thanksgiving dinner, and settled on Lenz. It’s still a good choice. This is a dry Gewürztraminer, with floral and spice aromas—cardamom, says my husband, and I agree—and plenty of fruit. It was allowed to age in the bottle, our server points out, and is made in the Alsatian style.
2) *2010 Pinot Gris $25
This is, of course, the French version of Pinot Grigio, which is my go-to choice when I have to get a glass of house wine, but this is so much better than most Pinot Grigios! We scent aromas of mineral and lime, maybe clementine, and taste pear and apple. The wine is dry but not tart, with a creamy mouth feel. The server says the Pinot Gris tastes like wine while Pinot Grigio tastes like water! I’d be happy sipping this on its own, or with seafood.
3) *1999 Cuvee RD $60
The price tag is a bit steep, though this is a lovely sparkling wine, with that slightly green-olive scent I find in many Champagnes. If you like lots of bubbles, however, you’ll be disappointed, as the bubbles dissipate quickly, though it is a bit petillant on the tongue. Lots of layers of flavor to this dry wine.
4) 2010 White Label Chardonnay $15
Steel fermenting means this is a clean crisp chard, with a honey candy aroma and a citrus taste—maybe pink grapefruit? Very food friendly, we agree.
5) 2010 Gold Label Chardonnay $20
Though I often don’t care for oaked chards, this one is very well done. It spends ten months in French oak barrels, we are told, and we do smell the vanilla aroma of oak, plus some pumpkin spice smells. Taste? Baked apples and pears! This could be a lovely aperitif wine, or it would pair well with most chicken dishes, especially ones that combined chicken and fruit. Our server notes that this is one of their few California-style wines, but it is not overly oaked as some of those are.
6) *2010 Old Vines Chardonnay $30
In contrast to the previous chard, this one is in the Burgundian style, our server informs us, and is aged in neutral oak barrels. She does a great job, by the way, of giving us time to chat with each other while also being attentive to when we are ready for the next round. Though we agree the wine has good balance, my husband notes there are “no fireworks.” There’s also a bit of a chemical taste at the end, and we have a discussion with the server about what exactly we are sensing.
7) 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon $23
At this point everyone else has left, and the servers outnumber the customers, which does not faze us one bit. Though this wine has an attractive aroma of raisins and chocolate—Goobers, we exclaim—we find the wine itself thin and disappointing and actually dump the rest of the glass.
8) *2007 Old Vines Cabernet $40
What a contrast. We love this one! Aroma of dried cherries in brandy and a lovely dark color precede a taste of dried fruits and intense berries.
9) 2008 Estate Selection Merlot $24
This is much better than the average 20-something dollar Merlot, and indeed was made from wine that had been intended for a premium bottling, but then didn’t meet the winemaker’s exacting specifications. Lucky us. We smell coffee, chocolate, and a bit of a floral aroma, with none of that barnyard smell so common out here. Delicious taste, too, with plenty of dark fruit. Very buyable.
10) *2007 Old Vines Merlot $60
Old vines indeed, our server notes, as these grapes come from vines first planted in 1978—ancient history for Long Island wines! Lots of lovely aromas, cherries, layers of dark fruit, very mouth-filling. This could age for twenty years, our server informs us. I bet it could.
We buy several bottles as gifts and may come back to get more for ourselves when we deplete the cellar.
Reasons to visit: nine out of the ten wines are very drinkable, and quite a few are excellent; pleasant rustic barn-like setting; enthusiastic and well-informed servers; the Estate Selection Merlot and the Pinot Gris and the Gold Label Chardonnay and the Old Vines Cabernet and the Gewürztraminer and—you get the picture.